Religious Fundamentalism: A Survivor’s Story

Religious Fundamentalism: A Survivor’s Story December 11, 2014

Fundamentalism can be used to describe any religious group that adheres to a strict, literal view of its sacred scriptures. According to RationalWiki, fundamentalists share the following characteristics:

  1. Religious idealism is the basis for personal and communal identity;
  2. Fundamentalists understand truth to be revealed and unified;
  3. It is intentionally scandalous (outsiders cannot understand it and will always be outsiders);
  4. Fundamentalists envision themselves as part of a cosmic struggle;
  5. They seize on historical moments and reinterpret them in light of this cosmic struggle;
  6. They demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
  7. Fundamentalists are selective in what parts of their tradition and heritage they stress;
  8. They are primarily led by a narrow demographic (e.g. white males);
  9. They envy modernist cultural hegemony and try to overturn the distribution of power;
  10. Their logic is so different from normal logic, they cannot be argued with. For instance, in an argument over the existence of God, which is supposed to initially assume nothing, fundamentalists assume there is a god and that opposing statements are irrelevant.

Christian fundamentalist groups place the highest priority on conforming to doctrine and the literal translation of the Bible which supersedes love, compassion, and service to humanity. Their insistence that what they believe is correct and all others’ beliefs are wrong demands not only their conformity, but the conformity of society to their point of view. In essence, one must follow the Fundamentalist Handbook to the letter!

Believing that what their brand of Christianity teaches is the only way to salvation, ‘strong-arm’ evangelism is practiced by many adherents. While Christian Fundamentalism holds to the original “Five Fundamentals”, two main points cause many to join their ranks.

  1. An appeal to vanity– We are God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood. God needs me in order to accomplish his mission. This creates arrogance and superiority.
  2. Fear– You were born in sin, you are bound for hell. The only way to escape hell is through salvation; the only way to be saved is through us. This ensures loyalty.

But here’s the problem– extreme Fundamentalism is very, very harmful. I’ve asked a former youth and music pastor (and my brother), Phillip Moore, to share his story as a survivor of Christian Fundamentalism. phillip 1

Phillip Moore is a gifted vocalist and musician specializing in cabaret music. He began his musical journey as a young boy in rural Alabama.  Growing up as the son of a minister, hearing his mother and sisters sing in church ignited a flame that, later in life, blazed into a passionate, gifted vocalist. His dream of one day becoming a professional musician has now been realized through hard work and dedication to his craft.

Phillip attended Wallace State Community College where he performed with the acclaimed “Wallace State Singers”. He then transferred to Southeastern Bible College to complete his vocal training. He served as a music pastor for a number of years before venturing out to pursue his music full-time.

You and I were raised in a harsh, fundamentalist home. Would you share a little about your childhood?

I grew up in Alabama where my father was an extreme fundamentalist, Baptist preacher. During my childhood, I lived a life of fear and closed-minded thinking. I was not allowed to dream or wish for things, unless it was what my father and the church deemed appropriate.

To say that my father was strict is an understatement! He ruled our family with the Bible in one hand and a leather belt in the other. Religion and the church was our life. Living in the “church bubble”, I was completely isolated from the rest of world. Every second was controlled and monitored. Their were so many rules in our family, too many to list, but I’ll share a few with you.

  • In order to be friends with someone, dad had to ‘screen’ them first.
  • I was not allowed to listen to “secular” music, go dancing, or watch movies. (Unless they were Christian movies!)
  • I couldn’t say dang or darn (it was too close to damn), gosh (too close to God, don’t want to take his name in vain), pregnant, or even the word fart.
  • The only books I was allowed to read had to be strictly religious.
  • Social activities were limited to church, church, church, and church socials.
  • My sister wasn’t allowed to wear shorts, tank tops, go swimming, or wear makeup. All these things could tempt a man causing him to ‘sin in his heart’.
  • I had to obey without question. I learned very early in life to do as I was told and keep my mouth shut!
  • When we had a TV, we couldn’t watch certain television shows. A good example is the TV show, Three’s Company. This show was forbidden because men and women were living together and not married to each other. (Television was the Devil’s tool, so it was removed from our family when I was 6 years old.)

My father prided himself in being strict and would discipline us very quickly and beat us harshly over the tiniest infraction! He really followed the the Bible’s instruction, spare the rod spoil the child, to the letter! When dad walked in the door, you never knew which ‘dad’ you were going to face. Our family walked on egg-shells in an attempt to avoid his wrath.

I lived in fear of my father because he was not only an abusive fire-and-brimstone preacher, but someone I didn’t enjoy being around. I really wanted to be with my dad, and to do things with him like go fishing or hunting. But I felt that he didn’t have time for me. He was always at church doing ‘God’s work’ instead.

In my mind, I was simply a burden, not worthy of his time, and it made me feel very awkward around him. I didn’t feel acceptance or encouragement from him. I can still hear his words ringing in my ears, “You’ll never amount to anything. You’re just stupid.” Honestly, I can’t say that I ever felt love from my dad.

My mother was a different story. I never felt that she didn’t love me, but I do realize that her life was consumed with ‘running interference’ between dad and us kids. Mom grew up in a similar home and believed that she was inferior to my dad. The Bible instructed women to be subservient to men and she followed those teachings completely. Mom suffered from deep depression for as long as I can remember. Some days she couldn’t even get out of bed! I know now that the reason could be that the indoctrination and abuse from my father crushed her spirit. But at the time, I didn’t understand. All I knew was that she loved me and tried to protect me.

When I found out that she had cancer and only had two weeks to live, I was crushed! Honestly, I didn’t want to live!  I cried out to God asking him, “Why would you leave me with this man who doesn’t even love me?” “Why did you take away the only refuge in my life?”

How could a loving god be so horrible and cruel to a 15 year old boy? I prayed, begged, read my Bible, and called everyone I knew and asked them to pray for my mom. Even though I did everything that I knew to do…she still died. My only consolation was knowing that she was no longer suffering from my dad’s abuse. In my mind, God had saved her from her misery. As I stood by her deathbed, I realized that the God of my childhood was harsh, uncaring, cruel, and mean! After she died, I left home and never returned.

4831826-Leaving_Home-0

When did you realize that you were attracted to men? How did that make you feel?

Looking back, I realize that as a little boy I was attracted to other boys but I really had no idea what that meant. In my mind, it was the worst thing that could happen! All I knew was that the Bible said that boys and girls belong together– that’s how God made us. So feeling this attraction to boys instead of girls was the unpardonable sin! So I suppressed everything and set out to follow God’s plan.

When I was barely 18, I had an encounter with a friend. It was innocent, but nevertheless it brought the feelings of attraction that I had suppressed to the forefront. I reacted immediately by shutting off my desires because I knew that what I was feeling was sinful. I still had no idea that what I was going through was called homosexuality. In my mind, what happened was wrong and God was not pleased. In order to escape God’s wrath, my desires had to put to death!

Not long after that incident, I moved to Florida to attend college. Since my major was in church music, I took a job at a local church as a music pastor. The senior pastor immediately took an interest in me. He ‘took me under his wing’ and, according to him, began teaching me how to truly minister to the flock.

Over a period of months, I slowly opened up to him about my past. He told me that God had already revealed my wounded-ness to him and that he was sent by God to help me heal. At the time, I believed everything he said to me! Finally God was going to be there for me. All the pain from my abuse and the loss of my mom would be erased and I would be at peace! So, I poured my soul out to him. I trusted him with all my fears, hurts, and deepest secrets. But this pastor didn’t have any intention of helping me, he just wanted me for his own pleasure.

Through careful manipulation, he groomed me for his purposes. When I was properly ‘brainwashed’, he began abusing me sexually. The sick truth is that while he was abusing me, he tried to convince me that God’s plan was for boys/men to love each other in this way! It’s how God was going to help me find healing from the wounds of my past and experience a true ‘father’s love’. This so called ‘man of God’ robbed me of my innocence and sent me spiraling into hopelessness feeling dirty, ashamed, and used. For years I beat myself up because I didn’t see what was happening. My own body betrayed me by reacting to his advances. In my mind, that pointed the finger of blame right at me!

Looking back, I can see how he fooled me so easily. As hard as it is for some to believe, the abuse and indoctrination in my past created a perfect incubator for this situation. I was an ‘easy target’ because I foolishly trusted this man just because he had the title of Reverend Even after I left that church self-hate, because of my ‘same sex attraction’, created confusion and a victim mentality.

Moving on to another church, I was preyed upon again by another religious leader. He, like the pastor above, saw my pain and used it as leverage to seduce me. I was so vulnerable and wanted to feel accepted, loved, and valued. His efforts paid off and I began a secret relationship with this man. Based upon the warping from the first pastor’s assault, I eventually bought into the idea that God intended for men show their love to each other in this way. I think some part of me knew that he was using me but I felt powerless to put a stop to what he was doing. I was trapped with no way out.

Some have said that I was old enough to do something about the situation, but they fail to realize the harmful effects on children who have been taught that they cannot refuse anything or have independent feelings or thoughts. Victims of sexual abuse feel powerless to stop future advances and fall prey to predators, and in many cases, falsely believe that what is happening is God’s will. For me, it all hinged on this twisted message: If I refuse this man of God then I’m going against God.

My guilt was overwhelming! I realized that I needed help to get out of this situation. The obvious place, for me, to find help was the church and my pastor. (You would think that I would’ve learned by now! This proves how deep indoctrination goes into a person.) The first piece of spiritual advice he gave me was to date women, so I started seeing a woman in our church. We went out for about a year but that didn’t change my attraction to men. When I told him that dating didn’t work, he followed the fundamentalist handbook and blamed me. He stripped me of my leadership role in the music ministry, shamed, and vilified me! A few days later, he called me to his office where he had assembled the entire staff. For over an hour, I was mocked, ridiculed, yelled at, and told that I was an evil pervert. His plan worked. I hated myself completely and was convinced that something was wrong with me.

Yet again, a ‘man of God’ left me broken and bleeding because of emotional and psychological abuse. (Now, after years of therapy, I can see the ‘fundamentalist fingerprints’ all over my abuse.) Somehow in my mind, I believed that what I was being told was right: I am sinful and this is a very bad thing and I am a very bad person.

I was determined to be a good person and so I did everything that I could to find healing and be free of the ‘sin of homosexuality’. I went through program called Theophostic prayer, tried to have the demon of homosexuality exorcised, joined Exodus International (an ex-gay ministry), went to every faith healer and revival within driving distance, was prayed over, anointed with oil, slain in the spirit, went into my mother’s womb in order to heal the wounds she transferred to me, saw a Christian counselor, and even joined two different 12-step programs for sexual addiction. This cycle of went on for about 5 years but, in the end, nothing worked. In desperation, I decided that the only way to find healing was through a reparative therapy program.

Share a little about your time in reparative therapy AKA ‘gay camp’. 

Love in Action (LIA) promised healing for those struggling with homosexuality. Believing that God was leading me, finally, to freedom, I sold everything I owned to pay the fees for the program. Leaving my family behind, I moved to Memphis where I spent 9 months in a residential ex-gay facility earnestly praying that this would finally be the answer to my struggle.

Life in the program was run in an extreme, authoritarian manner. When I arrived, I was given a 30 page manual of rules! You may read this and be taken aback, but it didn’t seem odd to me at all. Remember, I grew up in a similar environment and thought that this was how life worked. Fundamentalism prepared me to accept what I was told without question!

LIA was intended to free me of my attraction to men, but instead, the tools given by the program caused me to look deeply at myself and explore the wounds of my past. Their belief was that this introspection would ‘cure’ me, however it caused me to finally realize that I’m not worthless! I’m not to blame for the abuse of my past! I’m not broken! That I’m not perverted, stupid, or dumb, or no good! My understanding now is that I am worth something, I am good, I have value… and I’m gay. I guess their plan back-fired!

I packed my belongings and left the program. I knew that returning to Florida was out of the question, so I stayed in Memphis. It was there that I met a wonderful man and we began dating. This time, things were different. Having someone love me for me and not for what he could get from me was so different than my past. Being in a healthy relationship gave me the courage to finally say, “Hello. My name is Phillip and I’m gay.”

Life is a lot different for me now. I’m no longer the little boy, bullied by my dad and my God. I’m no longer a young adult, preyed upon and abused by pastors and church leaders. (By the way, both men are still leading churches!) I’m no longer the man who believed that he was sick, broken, sinful, perverted, and worthless. I’m no longer the man who felt that he was such an abomination to God that he subjected himself to every crazy religious nut who promised healing. No. I’m not that man.burt and phillip

Now I’m strong. Now I’m confident. Now I’m loved. Now I know that what happened to me was terribly wrong and no one deserves that kind of life. Now life is GREAT! I’m in love with a wonderful man and we’re engaged! We plan to be married in February surrounded by family and friends.

Today, I have the courage to speak out about what happened to me. So many times, men who talk about being sexually abused are brushed aside or openly mocked. Those actions heap additional harm on the victims and have led many to take their own lives! I know how it feels when you go to someone for help and they blame you instead. If you are in that situation, please don’t believe the lies! Reach out to one of the agencies listed at the end of the article. They will lovingly support you and help you find healing and wholeness.

In conclusion, I want to say one more thing. (I told Teresa to include this verbatim!) I had one constant throughout every step of my journey. That’s my sister, Teresa. Even though, at the time, her religious beliefs were in conflict with my lifestyle she never condemned me or abandoned me or told me that I was doomed, damned, and bound for hell. Without her unfailing support and encouragement, I don’t think I could have made it. I know that her life has been tough as well. Our childhood brought so much pain and harm, but we always had each other and that made all the difference.

Finally, how can people find you online? (Website, Twitter etc)

My website, Prey4Innocent is devoted to raising awareness of the sexual abuse by Protestant ministers. prey4innocent.wordpress.com Or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Prey4Innocent


I think that this is the hardest article I’ve ever written! Dealing with my own wounds has been difficult, but remembering the horrors of Phillip’s abuse caused me to dip into a depressed state for over a week. This is why I talk about my past, even though it’s tough.

Religious fundamentalism causes severe wounding that has long-lasting repercussions. In order to help you understand how Phillip, and thousands of other young men and women, could be blinded to the advances of these religious leaders, allow me to elaborate. Sure, he was 19 years old, but given the level of indoctrination in his past and the power that the pastor had over him, he (nor any other victim in the same circumstance) could not meaningfully consent to that predator’s overtures. The mismatched power dynamic all but guaranteed that he couldn’t, which is exactly why both those pastors took the route they did in grooming their victim.

Fundamentalist indoctrination creates a perfect environment for abuse especially when the abuser is an authority figure. In her work with survivors of religious fundamentalism, Dr. Marlene Winell points out that extreme fundamentalism causes delayed emotional and life skill development. Fundamentalist beliefs can inhibit true emotional development and compromise communication skills. A childhood marked by extreme fundamentalism coupled with physical and emotional abuse creates a perfect storm, so to speak, within a person’s psyche.

With this information, it’s easy to see how people believe and fall prey to some of the most horrible things imaginable.  This is one of the reasons why I share my story… I want people to know that they’re not alone, help is available, and it gets better! So let me leave you with a little homework.

  1. Get the word out by sharing this story. Raising awareness is the first step.
  2. If you’ve experienced a similar past– reach out to someone for help.
  3. If you know someone who’s lived through this kind of hell– reach out to them.
  4. Find an active way to be a part of the solution. Volunteer with an organization that is addressing the harm caused by fundamentalist religion.
  5. Share your story! It’s powerful and the world needs to hear it.

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.

— Christopher Reeve

If you’d like to hear more about our stories, a two-part interview is listed below.

The Atheist Experience: Interview with Phillip Moore and Teresa MacBain part 1

The Atheist Experience: Interview with Phillip Moore and Teresa MacBain part 2

*My fellow Ex-Communications writer, Captain Cassidy, shares her experience with fundamentalism in her post, Where Being Hardcore (Almost) Got Me


RESOURCES: There are hundreds of sites dedicated to helping people deal with religious trauma, LGBT issues and persecution, and sexual abuse. I’ve listed a few to get you started. Feel free to add additional resources in the comments.

Recovering from Religion

The Secular Therapy Project

Foundation Beyond Belief

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

20 LGBT Resources (Links)

Journey Free (Religious Trauma Syndrome)

Suicide.org (An extensive site dedicated to informing the public and helping those contemplating suicide)

Suicide Hotlines: 

1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)

Text Telephone: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)

Military Veterans Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-TALK (Press 1)

Suicide Hotline  in Spanish: 1-800-273-TALK (Press 2)

LGBT Youth Suicide Hotline: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR

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